You may have heard that Martin Erat demanded a trade from the Washington Capitals, according to USAToday.com. Erat said on Nov. 25 that he "got traded here to be a top-six player but never got the chance."
The latter part of that statement is debatable, but what's not debatable is that this season, Erat received the first three healthy scratches of his 12-year career.
He did not, however, play his first game for the Capitals this season until Nov. 30.
Four days prior to that—after he was once again sent back down to the Hershey Bears of the AHL after failing to dress for the Washington Capitals of the NHL—Katie Carrera of The Washington Post wrote about Orlov's season to date.
It marked the fifth time in the past month Orlov has been recalled and subsequently returned to the AHL without appearing in an NHL game, in what has been a peculiar trend given that the Capitals have suffered injuries and relied on inexperienced players on the blue line over that same span.
This type of activity caused Orlov's agent, Mark Gandler, to request the trade on his client's behalf, according to Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com. Speaking on the matter, Gandler said “obviously, what Dmitry would like is to be traded, because he has no future in Washington whatsoever, zero chance for him."
So if Washington decides to move the disgruntled Erat and Orlov, who should the Capitals target?
For starters, we must analyze the trade value of each player.
Erat's trade value has taken a nose dive this season. Erat has zero goals and seven assists in 24 games, with an even rating and eight penalty minutes. He ranks 11th on the team in points and 10th among Capitals' forwards in time on ice per game at 13:01.
To illustrate Erat's diminished productivity this season, here is a table showing how his 2013-14 statistics project over an 82-game season, versus the 82-game averages for his career:
|Martin Erat's Projected 2013-14 Stats vs. 82- Game Averages|
With this statistical output in mind, Bruce Garrioch of The Ottawa Sun further explained Erat's value on the market on Nov. 30.
For the second time in less than a year, Washington RW Martin Erat has asked for a trade. Teams have shown only mild interest, but he’ll be tough to move. He has no goals in 23 games, has been scratched and when he’s played his role has been as a fourth liner. The best bet for Caps GM George McPhee: Find a team that needs to stay at or close to the salary floor—maybe the Isles, Panthers and Sabres—and see if there’s a fit for his $4.5 million salary...
More on Erat in a second.
Now let's look at Orlov's trade value.
At the time he requested the trade for his client, Orlov's agent also told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com that he thinks Orlov's "value as a player is diminishing with every day and the team is losing valuable time and also ruining his career.”
Perhaps that is why there are no substantiated rumors involving Orlov at this time, according to MyNHLTradeRumors.com. But what about Erat?
Pierre LeBrun of TSN.ca answered that question on Nov. 27.
There are interested parties and part of that is because his contract goes down to $2.25 million next year, so it is a cap-friendly contract in terms of salary. The Vancouver Canucks are among the teams that have some level of interest in Erat. He's an easier player to trade than say Sharks forward Martin Havlat will be in San Jose.
Before we discuss who the Capitals should become trade partners with, let's discuss the type of player for whom the Capitals should be trading.
To me, this is a no-brainer. The Capitals need a crease-clearing, bell-ringing, bone-crushing, mean-and-nasty, stay-at-home shutdown defender. Of the elite variety. John Erskine does not count.
The Capitals have not pursued such a player since the summer of 2010. On June 3 of that year, Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post reported that the Capitals had taken themselves out of the running for free agent Anton Volchenkov, putting to rest a two-week-old rumor propagated by Don Brennan of The Ottawa Sun.
Later that summer, the Capitals did in fact pursue a shutdown defender. On Aug. 17, Corey Masisak reported via Twitter that free agent Willie Mitchell was working out for the Capitals at their practice facility.
Volchenkov eventually signed with the New Jersey Devils and Mitchell eventually signed with the Los Angeles Kings. While the Caps were left without a shutdown defender, both players joined teams that already had one, thus making a shutdown pair. Since that summer, both players and their respective teams have played in the Stanley Cup Finals.
That is not a coincidence.
The Capitals need a shutdown defender like Volchenkov or Mitchell to make a serious run at Lord Stanley's Cup. Two would be nice, but let's take it slowly, as the Capitals seem to struggle with this concept.
Which shutdown defender should the Capitals pursue?
Circling back to the Vancouver Canucks since they had previously expressed interest in Erat, the answer to that question is Kevin Bieksa. The 32-year-old makes up half of a shutdown pair and has played in the Stanley Cup Finals with his current team.
The Ontario native is definitely mean and nasty. He racked up 724 penalty minutes in 490 career games over nine seasons, all with Vancouver.
According to HockeyFights.com, Bieksa has 36 regular-season fights to his name.
Bieksa, however, is also defensively responsible. He has a career plus/minus rating of plus-37 with an average time on ice of 22:34, according to Hockey-Reference.com.
This season, Bieksa has stayed true to his form. He has one goal and 10 assists in 29 games played, with a plus-seven rating and 26 penalty minutes. Among Vancouver defenders, Bieksa ranks first in plus/minus rating, penalty minutes and hits, second in time on ice per game and third in short-handed time on ice per game and blocked shots.
Bieksa certainly fits the bill, but would a trade of Erat and Orlov for Bieksa actually work?
The financials certainly check out.
Here is the salary information for the three players involved in this prospective trade, including salary cap hits for 2013-14 and 2014-15 and the existing salary cap space for their current teams.
|Comparison of Salary Cap Hits for Erat, Orlov and Bieksa|
|PLAYER||2013-14 SALARY CAP HIT||2014-15 SALARY CAP HIT||EXPIRES||TEAM CAP SPACE|
If these are the only three players involved, the Capitals would be left with $1,318,633 in cap space, while the Canucks would be left with $1,721,969 in cap space. It's important to note that Erat is under team control for one more full season, while Bieksa is under team control for two more full seasons.
Vancouver may ask that other Capitals players be involved in this trade. Such a demand would certainly be justified, considering Orlov's diminished trade value and the fact that he is only under team control through the end of this season.
How can George McPhee and the Capitals sweeten the deal?
Chuck Gormley of The Washington Times proposed that the Capitals include Michal Neuvirth in a trade with Vancouver. Although he is currently in a backup role, Neuvirth is a starter-caliber goaltender. If Erat and Orlov are also involved, then the Capitals would be giving up way too much. So for the purposes of this proposal, goalies are off the table.
Plus, by including Erat and Orlov as part of this hypothetical trade, the Capitals would already be cutting into their forward depth and their defensive depth, according to The Hockey News. Including another NHL forward or NHL defenseman would only add to that tally.
That leaves only one avenue left to explore if the Capitals are to supplement this deal: prospects.
Caps fans will not want to hear that noise, especially considering their team had to forfeit a prized prospect to acquire Erat in the first place. If you want to acquire a valuable asset, though, you have be willing to surrender valuable assets to complete the deal.
Dangling a prospect may be especially prudent in this case. According to the 2013 Organizational Prospect Rankings published by Hockey Prospectus, Washington is ranked 11th in the NHL while Vancouver is ranked 20th. The Canucks may jump at the chance to strengthen their farm system by acquiring one of Washington's top prospects.
Considering the Canucks would be parting with a defenseman, Capitals' prospect Christian Djoos may be the perfect candidate to supplement this transaction. Djoos was ranked seventh among the Capitals' top 10 prospects for 2013 by Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus. Pronman described Djoos as a "top breakout prospect" of the 2012-13 season and projected that the Swede "could be a second pairing defenseman."
Djoos may be exactly what the Capitals need to get the Canucks to sign off on the deal, but the Canucks have to get Bieksa to sign off on the deal as well. Bieksa has a full no-trade clause, which represents a significant stumbling block. At the time of the signing, Bieksa told TSN.ca that "there's no team in the league that's more committed to winning than Vancouver."
How to convince Bieksa otherwise is beyond me.
Look, I'm not an NHL general manager. I simply tell the Capitals' general manager how to do his job from time to time. Perhaps the Capitals' GM himself could convince Bieksa that the one team more committed to winning than Vancouver is Washington.
If McPhee can do this, he would acquire the shutdown defender he has long coveted while ridding the franchise of two unhappy players at the same time.
In so doing, McPhee will erase the memory of the much-maligned Erat-Forsberg trade with one master stroke.
Note: All statistics updated through Dec. 2 courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise.
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